Wanted: male architect willing to navigate his own building in a skirt
A couple of weeks ago, after viewing an architectural schematic that featured a pair of elevated glass catwalks, I posted a tweet that invited male architects to navigate their own designs in a skirt.
The post ignited a flurry of responses from women, including Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times assistant managing editor and former television critic, who suggested adding heels to the mix.
To that challenge, design writer Alissa Walker of Curbed added babies.
The tweet reignited a debate about an ongoing design issue in many public spaces — that some of them simply do not keep women in mind.
I took the picture at the top of this post at the Nicanor Parra Library at Diego Portales University in Santiago, Chile, in 2015. The building was designed by Chilean architect Mathias Klotz and was completed in 2012 — in other words, at a point in time when male architects should know better.
Yet the library features glass floors in locations throughout the building. (Naturally, I was wearing a skirt on the day I visited.)
And, in reply to my tweet, writer John Hill, who writes the blog “A Daily Dose of Architecture,” pointed out the use of see-through walkways in Rafael Viñoly’s building for the architecture school he designed for the City College of New York — which he completed in 2009.
City College isn’t the only school of architecture to employ transparent walkways. The Southern California Institute of Architecture, known as SCI-Arc, in downtown Los Angeles has similar elevated walkways. (At a recent gala dinner I attended, some women — including myself — gathered their skirts as they moved across the elevated metal grates.)
This not only affects the women who work and study in those buildings — according to the Assn. of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, 42% of accredited architecture degrees were awarded to women in 2013 — but it normalizes the idea among architecture students that transparent walkways are just a benign architectural feature.
They are not.
But the most notorious, and consistent, example of ill-thought building transparency remains Apple’s various stores, as noted by Times book editor Carolyn Kellogg.
Apple’s Instagram-friendly glass staircases are a subject that has been raised by various female critics over the years. In 2010, technology writer Joanne McNeil wrote about this very topic in a post that ran on her blog “Tomorrow Museum,” later reprinted by Mediaite.
“If I were commissioning the interior of any kind of store and someone brought me blueprints including glass staircases, I’d tell him to take a hike,” she wrote then. “I wouldn’t give him a second shot. If he’s not intuitive enough to grasp that women in skirts will be uncomfortable walking upstairs, clouded glass or not, then what other errors has he made in his design?”
Like, maybe, placing women’s bathrooms in architectural exile.
So, if there are a few good men out there (within driving distance of Los Angeles) willing to walk around one their own or someone else’s buildings in a skirt — while wearing high heels and holding a purse and a baby — my lines are open.
In lieu of licensed architects, I will also take a class of male architecture students. (Ahem, SCI-Arc?) You all have some walking to do.
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